By the end of the day, he had done something no other player in East Tennessee State football history had done before.
Holmes rushed for a school-record 255 yards, scored three touchdowns and reached a couple of other milestones as ETSU beat Mercer 38-33 in a Southern Conference game Saturday at Greene Stadium.
The result broke a six-game losing streak and gave the Bucs their first SoCon win of the season.
Holmes, a sophomore running back, surpassed 1,000 yards for the season and 2,000 for his career.
“It was definitely Quay’s day,” ETSU coach Randy Sanders said. “Quay’s been a great leader for us. He just shows up to work. I’m happy for him, proud of him.”
ETSU finished 1-7 in the SoCon and will take a 3-8 overall record into its season finale at Vanderbilt next Saturday. Mercer fell to 4-7 overall, 3-5 in the conference.
Mercer’s Tyray Devezin rushed for 168 yards on 29 carries and his fourth touchdown run cut ETSU’s lead to 38-33 with 4:33 remaining. The Bucs then gave the Bears a heavy dose of Holmes, who gained 59 yards on the final drive and effectively ran out the clock by himself.
He broke the school record by barreling for a 21-yard run with 1:13 left with a victory-clinching first down. It was his final touch of the game.
“We didn’t want them to get the ball back,” Holmes said. “I was thinking about making sure we’re getting first downs and they don’t get the ball back unless we go and score.”
Holmes needed 122 yards for 1,000 and he got it fast. On his first carry, he ran around the left end, broke free up the sideline and went 74 yards before being caught. That led to a field goal by Tyler Keltner.
Holmes struck again on the Bucs’ next possession. Running left, he worked his way into the open field and went 64 yards but was run down again. That one put him over 1,000 and led to a touchdown, a 2-yard run by Jacob Saylors.
“It was wide open,” Holmes said. “The holes were there. I had to stiff-arm a guy and I just tried to run as fast as I could. I’m not running a 4.4 or nothing, but I just wanted to make the most of the run.”
Holmes’ 145 rushing yards in the first quarter were the fifth-most in a quarter in SoCon history, but he was far from done. He added two touchdown runs in the second quarter.
Holmes has 1,133 yards this season and 2,061 for his career. He broke Brandon Walker’s record of 242, set in 1998 against Charleston Southern.
“It feels great,” Holmes said. “I was asked after the App State game what some of my goals were and I didn’t want to say, but this was definitely one of them. I have to give the credit to my O-line — they definitely did a great job blocking — and coach Sanders for really feeding the running game.
“We went out and made history today.”
Holmes did his damage on 26 carries and his record day led an ETSU rushing attack that gained 410 yards. The Bucs wound up with 516 yards in total offense.
Saylors added 80 yards on eight carries.
“It’s nice to go in the locker room and be rewarded for it,” Sanders said. “Not just the players, the coaches. We needed a win. It was good. It had been a while.”
Artevius Smith has made big plays for the ETSU defense all season and the senior safety was at it again on Saturday. With ETSU ahead 24-14, Mercer appeared to be moving toward a score as the clock wound down in the second quarter, but Smith intercepted a Kaelan Riley pass at the goal line and took off on a long and wild return.
During the runback, as Smith weaved his way toward midfield, the ball was knocked out of his hands and into the arms of teammate Karon Delince, one of the fastest players in the conference.
Delince continued down to the 27-yard line before being brought down.
“Thank God it went back to one of my teammates,” Smith said. “It was like a whole gear shift. I know nobody’s going to catch him.”
Smith’s interception was his SoCon-leading fifth of the season.
On the next play, freshman quarterback Tyler Riddell hit Keith Coffee in the back of the end zone for a 27-yard touchdown and a 31-14 advantage. It was the first touchdown pass of Riddell’s brief career.
Riddell, who relieved starter Trey Mitchell, finished 8 of 12 for 116 yards. He also gained 25 yards with his legs.
Jason Maduafokwa and Nasir Player, two longtime ETSU stars playing in their final home game, recorded quarterback sacks. Player also got an unofficial sack when he took down Riley on a two-point conversion attempt.
The Bucs survived three turnovers in the third quarter. Donovan Manuel also had an interception for the Bucs.
Riley was 21 of 30 for 224 yards and a touchdown for the Bears. He was intercepted twice.
David Durden caught nine passes for 115 yards. Chris Eillington caught Riley’s touchdown pass, a 4-yarder in the fourth quarter.